The fight over raising the debt ceiling reveals that the Trump wing has taken control of the Republican Party.
Defaulting on our debt for the first time in our history would have crushed our economy and forfeited our international standing. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that a default would be “catastrophic,” creating “a permanently weaker nation.”
Financial analysts at Moody’s Analytics noted that when a problem with word-processing equipment at the Treasury led it inadvertently to miss payments on Treasury bills in 1979, the resulting jump in interest rates ultimately cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that default would undermine our international reputation.
But when the House passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling, Senate Republicans killed the measure with the filibuster, the Senate rule that allows debate to continue without a vote until 60 members of the Senate vote to end debate—a rule that essentially means it takes 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to pass any bill the minority wants to block.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed that the ceiling must be raised. But then he insisted he would not allow Democrats to pass the bill with a simple majority. He told them they must pass a measure raising the debt ceiling in a reconciliation package, which cannot be filibustered but which would make it harder for Democrats to pass their popular infrastructure measures. Democrats noted that the Republicans ran up the debt and now should agree to pay it, and they refused to try to rush through a reconciliation package to shield the Republicans from their responsibility.
And then, as business leaders began to map out a pressure campaign to get McConnell to drop the filibuster, he backed down and agreed…not to allow a simple majority vote, but to find ten votes to break a filibuster.
As co-host of Pod Save America Dan Pfeiffer noted in his newsletter The Message Box, that approach suggested that McConnell has lost control of his caucus. Any senator can vote against allowing a simple majority, and it seems McConnell could not trust the other Republican senators to permit a vote and so had to try to force the Democrats to do things his way. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called his bluff.
McConnell scrounged up the votes he needed but then wrote a scathing letter to President Joe Biden, announcing he would “not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.” But the truth is that he is putting the best spin he can on the fact he can’t help even if he wanted to: he no longer controls the caucus.
Immediately, former president Trump issued a statement blaming McConnell for “folding to the Democrats, again. He’s got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them destroy our country!”
On September 22, Trump explained that to stop the Democrats, the Republicans might have to burn down the country: “The way I look at it,” he wrote, “what the Democrats are proposing, on so many different levels, will destroy our country. Therefore, Republicans have no choice but to do what they have to do, and the Democrats will have no choice but to concede all of the horror they are trying to inflict upon the future of the United States.”
Those who agree with Trump are now in charge of the Republican Party.
Today, on Fox News Sunday, the second-ranking Republican in the House, Steve Scalise (R-LA), refused repeatedly to say that Biden had won the 2020 election. Although then–attorney general and Trump loyalist Bill Barr said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and state election officials and judges have all agreed there were no irregularities that would have changed the outcome, Scalise backed Trump’s Big Lie that he actually won the 2020 election.
He did so by arguing that certain states had not followed the Constitution when state judges, governors, and election officials expanded mail-in voting during the pandemic. There is no indication that those adjustments changed the outcome of the election, but in summer 2020 Trump became fixated on the idea that mail-in voting hurt his reelection campaign.
As soon as Trump lost the election, he began to try to get officials to cheat to say he won, and then to replace officials who refused with those he thought would help him keep the presidency. On January 2, he tried to browbeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger into “finding” 11,780 votes in Georgia—one more than Biden’s margin of victory. Then he fired the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, BJay Pak, because he would not produce evidence of fraud, replacing him with someone Trump hoped would.
Now, across Republican-dominated states, Trump Republicans are doing the same thing: attacking those Republican officials who refuse to say the 2020 election was stolen and replacing them with partisans who will. In Hood County, Texas, where Trump won 81% of the vote, his supporters are trying to get rid of the Republican elections official who is trying to preserve the security of elections by, for example, excluding from a private meeting a journalist from One America News.
At the local level, anti–mask mandate and anti-vaccine protesters are bullying school board members and town officials to demand that local leaders bow to their wishes, and they are threatening violence in a way that looks much like the rise of anti-socialist gangs in the 1930s that fed the rise of fascism.
Last week, Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is currently defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol, told an audience that he would have 20,000 “shock troops” on hand to take over the government and deconstruct it as soon as Republicans again are in charge. “We control this country,” he said. “We have to start acting like it.”
Today, on the birthday of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot by an officer as she tried to break through a barricaded door to stop the counting of the ballots that would make Biden president, Trump recorded a video for a family event saying: “There was no reason Ashli should have lost her life that day. We must all demand justice for Ashli and her family.”
Last night, in Iowa, Trump held a “rally.” Mainstream Republican officials, including Senator Chuck Grassley, Governor Kim Reynolds, and Representatives Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Ashley Hinson, attended. Right on cue, a Trump supporter told a reporter: “We’re just sick of it, you know, and we’re not going to take it any more. I see a civil war coming….”
Today’s split in the Republican Party mirrors the split in the Democrats in 1860. The leadership is made up of extremists who consider their opponents illegitimate, maintain they alone understand the Constitution, and are skewing the mechanics of our electoral system to keep themselves in power. In 1860, the Democratic Party split, its moderates joining with the fledgling Republicans to defend the United States of America.
Then, as now, the radicals calling for the destruction of the nation were a shrinking minority desperate to cling to power. Then they took up arms to divide the nation in two and keep power in their part of it; now they are launching a quieter war simply by rigging future elections to conquer the whole nation.
The “civil war” video is linked on Twitter, but I won’t give it oxygen here.
I enjoy your letters a lot. The summary of the day’s news from a liberal perspective is thoughtful and separates chaff from wheat. Your great benefit to me is when you put the news into a historical framework and that has given me new insights into our society.
Recently in agonizing over the failures of our country to deal with its problems a common theme occurred to me. It is not just that things are screwed up. It is that no one is doing anything about the things that are screwed up. Big ones like climate change, inequality, and racism are ignored but also lots of lesser things like medical care and guns, voting rights, immigration, education, police reform, and infrastructure fall by the wayside.
I wonder if you have a historical perspective on the United States’ dealing with these issues over time. I am an old man and have seen some of these things develop over the last few decades, but our history stretches much farther back, and I don’t have that knowledge.
The failure of America to make even the tiniest effort to deal with the pathology of guns was my wake-up call as to how deep the malaise is. The inability to deal with guns is directly attributable to the gun manufacturers providing resources and a framework for the propaganda that led to the quandary today. In my youth the NRA was a worthy organization providing gun safety training and even standards for the use of guns in a rural and semi-rural society. That society used guns but looked on them as tools, not as sexual or religious objects. The manufactures’ propaganda that someone was going to “take your guns away” was swallowed by a portion of the population who mythologized guns into manhood. That propaganda provided the Supreme Court cover to issue its ridiculous and stunning rulings on guns. A ruling that had not been the law for the previous 200 years. This blatant corporate framing and promulgation of the issue has resulted in our deplorable current cycle of random death.
Recognizing the gun manufacturer’s origin of the gun problem and seeing the Supreme Court’s newfound reverence for corporations in Citizens United and Hobby Lobby and its portending cut back on congress’s right to regulate interstate commerce have combined to give me pause. It causes me to question whether our problems and inability to deal with problems are and have been, simply, the result of the abuse of corporate and commercial power. I remembered a quote from the seldom quoted Calvin Coolidge, “The Business of America is Business”. And it resonated with that possibility.
Decent medical care for all Americans was first proposed by Truman but was defeated by the American Medical Society. Since then, even more powerful forces like the lobbyists and public relations flacks of pharmaceutical companies, the hospital associations and some doctor groups have made that even more difficult. The corporate-driven diminution of unions has restricted the development of employer-based systems that had once created healthcare for the working middle class.
Similarly, inequality has increased dramatically with refusal to tax the wealthy and the tamping down of the minimum wage and the emasculation of unions. Congress and the Supreme Court have come to the rescue of corporations when they have felt the need.
Education has become privatized and there’s great pressure to increase that tendency with vouchers and charter schools and tax cuts. Universities and colleges have become mostly concerned about career path, tenure, and the ability to pull in money from students, parents, and donors. This leaves the focus less on the values of exploration of ideas, and curiosity and the nurturing of maturity for young people. Those commercial concerns are manifested by the scrum for patents and trademarks in the scientific arena and for articles and books in the humanities that conflict with the values of teaching skills and making individuals better as opposed to richer.
The problems of racism are grounded in the idea that one human can enslave another to provide for their own commercial success. Racism is so pervasive in our society’s institutions and so tied to the forces of commercialism and corporate governance that it can get overlooked as only combining with the forces driving inequality. The red lining of real estate, predatory lending and school segregation are the easy tools of forcing racism in addition to the factors of inequality. The forces affecting inequality affect minorities harder than other people.
The obverse of my analysis is the defense industry. In that case the money bestowed on lobbyists and for “education” of the public, flowing through the corporate giants of defense industry and the military has resulted in a bloated defense budget. This absorbs huge amounts of our treasure. We spend more on defense that the next 25 nations combined which proves the correctness of President Eisenhower’s warning of the Military-Industrial Complex. The silliness of that effort is proven by our inability to use our “military force” to deal with Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan. Our only tool for dealing with rogue countries is – economic sanctions.
The biggest problem our country – and the world faces is climate change. Our governments do little to address climate change and the private efforts are miniscule when confronted by government inaction or hostility.
Inability to regulate the financial sector and big tech emphasize the problems I see. The power of those industries and the individual owners becoming super-wealthy was turned loose by the Supreme Court and now they have increased their power rather than see reasonable limits to their desires.
Maybe the problem is just so pervasive that we have come to accept it as normal. No answers from me. The linear solution is to change the congress that makes things happen. But the power that exercises these abuses is also the power that decides who is elected to power and placed on the Supreme Court.
Thanks for the hard work you put in.
A thought before sleeping...
The most violent element in society is ignorance. – Emma Goldman